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Polenta, clams and chardonnay

Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 12:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 12:11 p.m.

Our Wine of the Week, Chateau St. Jean 2010 Alexander Valley Belle Terre Vineyard Chardonnay ($25), is as warm and bright as the spring sun, with pretty floral aromas that suggest the summer treasures we will soon enjoy. There's a hint of spice that makes me think of juicy Indian blood peaches and a halo of vanilla that suggests nectarine cobbler. As subtle oak flavors emerge, the ghost-like trace of smoke joins with the sweet fruit flavors and, before you know it, you're thinking of grilled pineapple.

This wine is ideal for a luau, with kalua pig, Hawaiian mac salad, laulau (pork and butter fish cooked in taro leaves), chicken long rice, coconut pudding, butter mochi dessert and lots of fresh pineapple. It is also an excellent companion to lobster rolls, clam chowder, seared scallops, rock shrimp salad, stuffed pork loin and corn, from on-the-cob to creamy polenta. It works beautifully with wild Pacific King salmon, too, especially when finished with a buttery sauce or fruit salsa.

For today's recipe, I've paired Manila clams with creamy white polenta, which has a slightly creamier texture and sweeter flavor than yellow polenta and is traditionally served with seafood. You can, of course, use yellow polenta if that is all that you have on hand.

Steamed Clams with Creamy White Polenta

Makes 3 to 4 servings

—Creamy White Polenta (recipe follows)

3 to 4 dozen live Manila clams

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced

3 shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced

1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and very thinly sliced

3 to 4 green garlic stalks, white parts only, very thinly sliced

—Kosher salt

—White pepper in a mill

1 tablespoon minced fennel fronds

¼ cup dry white wine

—Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley

Begin to prepare the polenta about an hour before you will serve it.

Rinse the clams in cool water and sort through them, discarding any that aren't closed and any that open easily. (Be careful with these, as they may be filled with sand and mud). Set them aside.

Put the olive oil and the pancetta or bacon into a large heavy saucepan or deep skillet, set over medium low heat and cook until almost but not quite crisp.

Pour off all but about a tablespoon of fat, return the pan to the heat, add the shallots, green garlic and sliced fennel and saute until soft and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Season lightly with salt and several turns of white pepper.

Increase the heat to medium, add the clams, white wine, lemon juice and fennel fronds, cover and cook until the clams open, about 5 minutes, shaking the pan now and then. Check the clams and cook a bit longer if needed.

Remove from the heat.

To serve, divide the polenta among individual soup plates, top with the clams and then ladle cooking juices and aromatics over each portion. Sprinkle with Italian parsley and serve immediately. Be sure to put an empty bowl on the table for discarded clam shells.

Creamy Polenta, Oven Method

Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 cup coarse-ground polenta, preferably white

2 teaspoons kosher salt

—White pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons butter, in small cubes

—Boiling water, as needed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the polenta, salt and several turns of pepper into a medium glass baking dish or a souffle dish. Pour in 4 cups of water and whisk well to avoid lumps.

Set on the middle rack of the oven and cook for 40 minutes.

Open the oven, pull out the rack, add the butter to the polenta and stir with a whisk or wooden spoon. If the polenta seems too dry or thick, stir in 1 cup of boiling water.

Close the oven and cook for 10 minutes more. Transfer the polenta to a work surface and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@ You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.

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